Two words might best sum up a good reason for optimism for the Perry High School football team as the Gilbert school prepares for tomorrow night’s 6A conference match-up with top-ranked and undefeated Chandler High. Those two words: DeCarlos Brooks.
The Pumas won’t have to worry about Brooks in a game that has turned into one of the better rivalries in the state. The talented running back graduated last year and is playing now for the California Golden Bears. But before he departed he used his senior season to run roughshod over the Perry program.
Brooks was the wrecking ball that helped produce a 65-28 rout in the state championship game, carrying the ball 33 times to pile up 334 yards. In the regular-season meeting he led the Wolves to a 45-34 victory as the workhorse had 43 carries for 246 yards.
This year, however, isn’t going to be any easier for the Pumas to break the chain of domination held by Chandler (5-0) over the past three years the teams have met. Perry has come up short in all six games, three losses in each regular season and three more in the playoffs – the 2016 state semifinal game and the last two meetings in the title game.
(*Update: Make it seven straight losses…An explosive offensive effort led to a runaway 84-49 win for Chandler, as the Wolves ran up 842 total yards, 642 of those on the ground. The Pumas couldn’t contain Chandler’s three-prong attack that included 263 rushing yards and four TDs from senior running back Dae Dae Hunter and another 184 and three TDs from junior RB, Eli Sanders, playing his first game since transferring in from Mountain Pointe HS after last season. Junior QB Mikey Keene threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns.)
So, tomorrow’s game has been circled on the 2019 schedule for the last 10 months, with the Perry coaches providing constant reminders during the off-season workouts to make sure the players are focused on breaking down the psychological barrier that comes with the continual frustration of falling short of the goal.
Among other things, it will take a lot of points to get over the hurdle. Chandler, which is not only No. 1 in 6A but also the top team in the Super 10 rankings that include teams from the top three conferences, is averaging 51.6 points a game this season. In the six losses to Chandler, the Wolves have averaged 55 points.
But Perry can light up the score board as well. The team is 4-2, but one of those losses was to Cesar Chavez HS when Perry Coach Preston Jones had suspended 30 players for the game. So, without including the 35-27 loss to Chavez, the Pumas are averaging 46.6 points a game.
Chandler has a new coach this year, but the transition from Shaun Aguano to Rick Garretson has been seamless. Aguano built a dynasty by winning four state titles in five years before leaving to take a job as running backs coach at Arizona State University, but Garretson was right by his side as passing-game coordinator and co-offensive coordinator.
And most of the staff stayed on following Aguano’s departure, so Garretson will still be working with one of the best coaching staffs in the state. And they will be working with a roster of players that is deep with Division I commits at almost every position
Garretson is proving to be a good fit in the head-coaching role. He has been coaching at Chandler for the past nine seasons and coaching high school football for more than two decades.
Perry’s senior quarterback, Chubba Purdy, is one of the best in the state, but he’ll be up against a very stingy Chandler defense that has allowed just a single touchdown in the last four games and has pitched two shutouts this season.
Chandler has replaced last year’s starting QB Jacob Conover, who led the Wolves to three straight 6A state championships before graduating last spring. But his successor, Mikey Keene, is keeping the Wolves’ offensive engine humming and may be able to lead his team to a fourth straight title. The junior has completed 83 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,268 yards and 11 touchdowns.
One other advantage that the Wolves will be enjoying tomorrow: home-field advantage.
And that’s more significant than usual since it will be the first time this season that Chandler gets to play at home. That means there is a lot of pent-up emotion from an enthusiastic crowd that will fill the stands to overflowing.
As if Chandler needed one more advantage.